The Beijing Improv Festival has this week been delighting audiences at the city’s Penghao theatre, with an array of wild and wacky comedy from around the world. But this time it’s your turn.
Beijing Improv run weekly Wednesday night bilingual workshops for anyone who wants to push themselves and give improv a go.
It’s a weekday night in Beijing. Students, office workers and artistic expats alike gather for a bilingual improv workshop, which this week is part of the 2013 Beijing Improv Festival.
|The Beijing Improv Festival has this week been delighting audiences at the city’s Penghao
theatre, with an array of wild and wacky comedy from around the world.
This session is divided into three groups, with instructors working in rotation. Experienced facilitators are adept at getting the best from the group, but for many Chinese participants, the lack of planning and rehearsal might seem daunting.
Dawn Estes, improv instructor, said, “We usually have a topic every week. The main message is to say yes. Yes-And… We always say yes to whatever ideas given to us, and we build on that to create something together, like a team.”
Warming up is the first step… then it’s time to wake up your “inner child.”
Dawn Estes said, “Just want them to go away with a sense of how much fun it can be. We were taught through the years to be careful what you say, and to think twice before we speak. At improv, there are no mistakes. You can’t do it wrong. ”
This year Beijing Improv has collaborated with Comedy Club China, a group of amateur stand up comedians in Beijing.
Whereas the two comedy mediums are different, they work well in tandem with one another with the goal of making you laugh or looking at the world in a different way. What’s better, both groups have always been, and will remain, free and open to anyone who’s willing to get up and have a go.
“Life is better improvised!” – Beijing Improv Slogan
With 8 performance set dates spread across 10 days, Beijing Improv is teaming up with Improv troupes for a non-stop, full-on program encompassing improv workshops, stand-up comedy shows, and improv performances from a star line-up of performance groups.
Exploding with awesomeness, this year’s Improv festival has a total of 16 improv teams on board (8 teams from Beijing + 8 teams from abroad). Aside from Beijing own Beijing Improv Mainstage Players, and Beijing Improv: BIG (bilingual), there will be teams from around the world including Impro Mafia from Brisbane, Australia, Istanbulimpro from Istanbul, Turkey, SPIT from Manilla, Philippines, PLI and 3 Dudes Improv from Hong Kong, Xiamen Improv from Xiamen, PRC, Zmack and 飞来戏剧 from Shanghai and finally Plus One, PRI, and Improv First from Beijing. Click here to see more about each of the visiting comedy troupes.
The festival opens on Thursday, April 11th (8PM-10PM) with stand-up performers giving their best shot on stage with their best material knowing they will be rated by a panel of judges to determine whether or not they will be invited back for the Stand-Up Showcase during the second week of the festival on Friday, April 19th starting at 10PM.
Sure to inspire audience members to catch the “improv” bug, the festival also offers FREE bilingual Wednesday workshops for the public on both Wednesday, April 10 & Wednesday, April 17th at 8PM. For some fiesty, funny females, there will also be an all women’s bilingual workshop hosted by All 女 on Saturday, April 13 from 11AM-12:30PM.
“This fun, bilingual workshop is for all levels, from first timers to experienced improvisers. Practising key improv skills and storytelling, this workshop covers all the basics of improv in a supportive and creative, woman-only environment. A great opportunity to come improvise with fellow female Beijingers!” - Lottie Dowling
To make it as logistically straight-forward as possible, the entire festival (including all workshops and performances) will be taking place in one location – Peng Hao Theatre, home of Beijing Improv and a cozy performing art space located just off Nanluoguxiang (NLGX).
Save-the-Date and mark your calendars for the following performance dates:
8:00PM on Thursdays & Fridays (April 11, 12, 18 & 19)
6:00PM on Saturdays (April 13 & 20)
3:00PM on Sunday, April 14th
2:00PM on Sunday, April 21st
Performance schedules online here.
Individual Show Tickets are RMB 50 each, but you can purchase an unlimited Festival Pass for only RMB 200. *Note: Festival pass will get you unlimited access to all shows, but you will still need to reserve the shows you want to see through their online reservations. You don’t need to reserve a festival pass online, but let the ticket personel know that you want to purchase a festival pass upon paying for your first show. Payment for the tickets and/or festival passes are made at the door up to 1 hour prior to show time.
Hurry to book your tickets as seats sell out fast! Tickets can be reserved at tickets.beijingimprov.org.
By William Wang
“Doing improv is like walking backwards,” Jeffrey Schwab said, quoting improv guru Keith Johnstone. “You can see where you’ve been but you can’t see where you’re going.”
Schwab is organizing the Beijing Improv Comedy Festival, a festival where the contents can’t be known until the moment of the performance. Improv (improvisational theater) is basically comedy without the script. Players act out scenes based on spontaneous suggestions, often taken from audience members. The Beijing Improv Comedy Festival — which runs until Sunday in the Penghao Theater — celebrates the act of going where no man (or woman) has gone before, by hosting a series of performances by teams from around the globe. “We might witness Shakespeare!” enthused host Jonathan Palley at the festival’s opening show. “We might not,” he mumbled, as an afterthought.
The Beijing Improv Comedy Festival brings together improv teams from a variety of Chinese cities including Hong Kong, Shanghai and Xiamen, in addition to teams from the Philippines, Australia and even the faraway shores of Turkey. Each improv team will strut its stuff, blasting through the most bizarre and unlikely scenarios that moderators and audiences can throw at them.
But what can audiences expect to see? Well, nobody knows exactly, since it’s impossible to know what direction players will be shoved in. “You have to trust that you’re going in the right direction,” instructed Schwab, “because there is no right one. We say always say yes to the situation.”
According to him, improv has two basic formats. “There’s short-form improv and there’s long-form. So in short-form you play a game on stage. You get a suggestion for that scene and it might last for five minutes. It’s contained, and it’s done. And then you do the next game which has nothing to do with the first one. So in a show you might do eight or nine short-form games.
“Then there’s long-form improv,” he continued, “where you get one suggestion and then you do 40 to 60 minutes’ worth of scenes without any other suggestions from the audience. It’s like doing an improvised play. It’s all continuous.” Long- form improv by necessity is character and plot driven, with less focus on slapstick humor. Schwab claims an affinity to long-form, even though it strikes fear in the throbbing hearts of many improv players.
“The thing about long-form is that you have good memory. Things that happen in the beginning might come up at the end. You have to remember their names and relationships. There are going to be connections. The hardest thing is to find an ending. How do you find ending? You just find it. That’s always the biggest challenge.”
“The short-form game is contained: if it’s not that good, it’s over in five minutes. The challenge in short-form is that you only have four or five minutes to make an entertaining scene. You have to be high energy all the time for the entire show. It can be exhausting.”
Last Friday, Improv Mafia (a two woman team from Australia) wowed the audience with a Jane Austen long- format piece. This Saturday, Istanbulimpro (a two man team from Turkey) will do their long-form piece. Schwab dubs them “the wild card” of the festival, the strangers in a strange town.
Teams based in China will of course be well-represented, presenting in Mandarin, English and French. But don’t be surprised to hear snippets of Cantonese or Shanghainese either. Beijing’s Bilingual Improv Group (BIG) exemplifies cross-cultural humor. “There’s some people [in the group] who can’t speak much Chinese, and there’s some people who can’t speak much English,” Schwab pointed out, “so we have to be aware of each other’s language ability when we step on the stage with that scene partner. Singing is one of the hardest things to do bilingually, but,” he smiled, “we’re working on that.”
All proceeds of the festival go to Hua Dan, an organization that supports the children of migrant workers through theater education, and a free Sunday performance will let these kids show off their ability to perform under pressure. “It’s one thing to tell people what Hua Dan does,” said Schwab, “but it’s another thing for people to see them actually perform.” It’s clear that this is one show he does not want to miss.
The festival wraps up Sunday evening with a Mix and Match performance: different teams will face off in a theater sports competition, where death by laughter will prove how serious improv can be.
Living in a city can be stressing at times, but there are many things to discuss. If you’re bored just chatting with friends, an “Improv Festival” is somewhere to enjoy some comedy. Beijing’s own event has just begun.
One stool, one microphone and an all-black stage set… It’s a monologue version of China’s Xiangsheng, or cross talk.
The first round stand-up competition of Beijing Improv Festival features 11 contestants. Each has six minutes to pack in their set-ups and punchlines with the right timing, to delight a live audience.
Stand-up and comedy sketches are part of modern popular culture. Over the years, this art form has broadened Chinese sense of humour. The comedians use their own experiences to banter, from traffic jams to teenage crushes, bad habits to terrible roommates.
And crossing cultures means Chinese participants make fun about “English education” and foreigners talk about “Fitting in in China”, bringing some of the night’s biggest laughs. The performance is in English, but the atmosphere definitely crosses borders.
Five contestants have qualified for the big showdown on April the 20th. The Improv festival also includes stand-up performances from overseas comedy troupes, and workshops for improvisational theatre.
Beijing Slice Episode Ten: Beijing Improv
We visit the folks at Beijing Improv, where you should always expect the unexpected.
Notes: Beijing Improv holds free, bilingual workshops every Wednesday night at the Hot Cat Club, as well as a theater show on the last Saturday of every month. You can find out more information at beijingimprov.org/